Regina: Protesters set up camp outside federal office
Posted by Zig Zag
by Kerry Benjoe, Regina Leader-Post, April 18, 2016
Seven tents have popped up along Albert Street as a protest in front of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada offices moves into a new phase.
Robyn Pitawanakwat, organizer, said she and others are prepared for the long haul.
“We started off with a protest on Friday because we wanted to bring attention to the issues that are happening in a lot of First Nations communities across Canada — the mental health crisis, the water issues, the housing issues,” she said Monday. “So today, we are trying to bring more attention because (the previous protest) really didn’t seem to do anything.”
She was disappointed INAC decided to close its office Friday during the initial protest.
Monday morning, protesters made their way to INAC armed with tents, flags, tables and food supplies before the doors of the office were set to open.
Pitawanakwat said employees showed up and were unable to use their cards to gain access to the front entrance of the building.
Employees eventually entered the building through the back door, however a sign was posted at the front door that said the office was closed.
The Regina office is not the only office that has opted to close its doors as a result of protests. Other office closures include: INAC headquarters in Gatineau, as well as the Toronto and Winnipeg locations.
The reason for the closures at the offices posted on INAC’s website states, “Due to exceptional circumstances, the following INAC offices are operating but closed to the public, including the publicly accessible Registration Office (while walk-up services are not available, information lines and Internet services are operational).”
The protests began last week, as a response to the state of emergency called by the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat due to the alarming rates of suicide attempts happening in that community. Protesters refused to leave the INAC offices in Toronto and Winnipeg and by Friday, the Regina group had joined in the call for real action and not band-aid solutions.
Pitawanakwat said the fact that Carolyn Bennett, federal minister of INAC,is on her way to Attawapiskat really doesn’t do much to change things for First Nations people.
“But the idea that it is one community they must address, is so disappointing,” she said. “They think all they have to do is a photo-op and provide band-aid solutions in one community and that should calm everyone down.”
Pitawanakwat said she and others would like to see an end to the Indian Act and a dismantling of INAC because the act and the department that administers it does nothing to improve the lives of First Nations living on reserve.
Richard Missens, assistant professor with the school of business and public administration at the First Nations University of Canada, said the Indian Act was designed to control First Nations people and was unilaterally created by the federal government.
As much as the Indian Act limits every aspect of life for First Nations it cannot just be eliminated without it being replaced with something else.
He said it may take years to develop legislation to replace the current act, but he remains hopeful because the current government seems to be willing to listen to First Nations and it is only through a nation-to-nation dialogue that real and meaningful change can happen.